Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The Heart of the Matter

On Saturday, August the 4th, I had a heart attack. I was walking down the dirt road by my house when I felt sudden constriction in my chest, intense weakness, shortness of breath, and tingling numbness in my whole upper body. I started back toward the house; the pain and weakness grew. I started to sit down in the ditch but figured I wouldn’t be able to get up again so I worked my way back to the house and called 911. The paramedics arrived quickly and after they put a scanner on me a young lady said: “We need to go now!” I didn’t think that was a good sign.

With sirens blaring, they got me to St. Tammany Hospital in Covington pretty quickly, with the young woman working on me the whole time. I never lost consciousness or even felt any real confusion. Mostly I felt fairly calm since at this point I understood it was all out of my hands. Once at the hospital they told me that the frontal artery leading to my heart was 100 percent blocked. They quickly put in a stent. I was then sent to ICU.

I spent two days in ICU, being introduced to a host of new medications. These made me quite nauseated, meaning I couldn’t eat anything. Not that I felt very hungry. On Monday evening they moved me to a new room in the regular hospital, and then released me Tuesday evening, although I was sent home wearing something called “Life Vest,” which monitors me and apparently can administer treatment if I have another attack.

The doctors said there was clearly damage to the heart but they won’t know how much or how much recovery I might expect until several weeks have passed. I’m hoping for good news on that front and am trying to follow all their protocols. I’m weak and can move only slowly. Still no appetite. I’ve been able to process some emails but not much else. I’m going to try to build my strength slowly. I do plan to be back at school for my classes though there are contingency plans for me easing back into that.

Thanks goes out to all the folks from the paramedics to the housecleaners who got me through my stay at the hospital, particularly the nurses in ICU, who were very considerate and kind and helpful.

Also, of course, to Lana, who has been a rock. She was at work when it happened and was working the phones at the desk when the call came through for her. I understand it was quite a shock. She’s taking a few days off work to stay home with me while I begin to mend.

I always suspected that I would need a stent or stents eventually. My brother has had to have them. But I thought I’d get some kind of warning of trouble before the actual attack. It didn’t happen in my case so any of you out there with the risk factors, get yourself checked.

Monday, July 09, 2018

The Mighty Warriors, Edited by Robert M. Price

The Mighty Warriors, Edited by Robert M. Price, Ulthar Press, 2018, 239 pages.

If you’re like this nearing 60-year-old, you may remember such great anthologies from the 1960s and 1970s as The Mighty Barbarians, The Might Swordsmen, Warlocks and Warriors, Savage Heroes, The Spell of Seven, Warlocks and Warriors, Swords & Sorcery, Swordsmen and Supermen, The Fantastic Swordsmen, The Barbarian Swordsmen, The Dark of the Soul, and the Flashing Swords and Swords Against Darkness series. These books were edited by such folks as L. Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter, Andrew Offutt, and Hans Stefan Santesson. They collected imaginative tales of sword and sorcery and heroic fantasy. Most included a story by Robert E. Howard, the father of the genre. I collected and devoured them all.

            In 2018, along comes Robert M. Price, a well remembered name in his own right, to try and capture that fateful lightning in a bottle (or prose) again. I’m not sure exactly how the collection came about, but several authors well known in the S & S genre were persuaded to take part, including Adrian Cole, David C. Smith, and Charles R. Saunders, as well as quite a few relative newcomers. The collection contains eleven stories. Here is the TOC, followed by my thoughts:

"Know, O Prince: An Introduction" by Robert M. Price

"Spawn of the Sea God" by Adrian Cole

"The Corpse's Crusade" by Cody Goodfellow

"Thongor in the Valley of Demons" By Robert M. Price

"The Shadow of Dia-Sust" by David C. Smith

"Amudu's Bargain" by Charles R. Saunders

"The Secret of Nephren-Ka" by Robert M. Price

"The Temple of Light" by Milton J. Davis

"Kiss of the Succubus" by Charles R. Rutledge

"The Living Wind" by Ken Asamtsu, translated by Edward Lipsett

"The Last Temple of Balsoth" by Cliff Biggers

"Lono and the Pit of Punhaki" by Paul R. McNamee

Appendices I-III
            While interesting, the introduction by Price could easily have been expanded. I would have liked to have seen a little more historical context myself, but I understand that many readers just want the stories and don’t much care about the history. I’m not sure that’s the case for most of the readers who will buy this collection, but I understand the impulse to keep the intro brief.

I recall Adrian Cole first from a wonderful trilogy of novels set in his own universe (Dream Lords), but here we have him telling a story about Elak of Atlantis--"Spawn of the Sea God". Elak was invented by Henry Kuttner. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Elak stories, since the character didn’t quite have the vitality that I associated with Robert E. Howard’s barbarians, but Cole does an excellent job of capturing the character and telling a fine, fun tale.

I don’t know anything about Cody Goodfellow. His "The Corpse's Crusade" is a tale of Zothique, which was invented by Clark Ashton Smith. Zothique is a continent of a future, dying earth. Again, I thought the author did a good job of capturing the sense of Smith’s Zothique. I liked this tale quite a bit with its twist of irony plot.

Next is Robert Price with a tale of "Thongor in the Valley of Demons.” Thongor is the creation of Lin Carter and was essentially a kind of mix between Conan and John Carter. He lived on the continent of Lemuria. Price has a whole collection of Thongor tales out called The Sword of Thongor. This is a new tale, though, not included in that collection. I have a soft spot for the Thongor tales and this is a worthy continuation of the character.

"The Shadow of Dia-Sust" by David C. Smith is a tale of Oron. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Smith wrote numerous stories and a couple of books about Oron. I much enjoyed them and was very happy to see a new tale of the character. Smith was also one of the best of the Robert E. Howard pastiche writers of the 70s and 80s so he knows how to write a tale of high adventure.

Charles Saunders is best known for his tales of Imaro, a warrior hero of Nyumbani, a kind of alternate Africa. There were three novels originally of this character and I read and enjoyed them all. It was good to see a fresh Imaro story, "Amudu's Bargain." I believe this one has a slight edge as my favorite of the collection.

"The Secret of Nephren-Ka" by Robert M. Price is next. This is a story of Simon of Gitta, originally a creation of Richard Tierney, although based on the Biblical character of Simon Magus. These stories tend to involve more sorcery and less sword than I typically like, but Tierney was a very fine writer and, again, Price captures the character well.

Milton J. Davis is next, with "The Temple of Light,” a tale of his hero Changa. Changa is an interesting character, a literary descendent of Imaro, I should think. Very good writing and setting. Davis has other stories of Changa out as well.

"Kiss of the Succubus,” by Charles R. Rutledge, features his hero Kharnn. This one is set in the 1500s. Kharnn is a time traveling barbarian. This is a straightforward blood and thunder tale of a battle against a demon. Fun stuff.

I’ve read a little bit of Ken Asamtsu’s work before. He is a Japanese author. I haven’t read his work in the original language but the translations have been exciting and enjoyable. "The Living Wind" is no exception. Lots of sorcery in this one too.

Cliff Biggers was also a new name to me. "The Last Temple of Balsoth" featured a character named “Gondar.” Gondar is out for revenge, a not unusual motivation in sword and sorcery, but this was a really fun tale that could easily have been set in REH’s Hyborian age.

Finally there’s “Lono and the Pit of Punhaki" by Paul R. McNamee. I’ve been in an anthology with Paul and know him as a very fine writer. This was a great tale to end the collection, and with a unique setting among Pacific islanders.

All in all, an enjoyable collection of robust red-blooded tales of adventure.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books: Stepsons of Terra

Stepsons of Terra, by Robert Silverberg: Ace, 174 pages.

According to the introduction of this book by Silverberg, Stepsons of Terra was his 6th published novel, written in October of 1957. Silverberg indicated that he’d had plenty of shorter stuff published before this work, though, as well as the five other novels. The original title of the book was Shadow on the Stars, and it appeared in the April 1958 issue of Science Fiction Adventures, edited at the time by Larry T. Shaw, who requested a novel from Silverberg. Later that year it was picked up by Donald Wollheim for his Ace Doubles book line, where it appeared opposite of a book by British author Lan Wright.

In his introduction to “Stepsons,” which contains a wealth of good information, Silverberg says he’d written plenty of shorter “melodramas” for Science Fiction Adventures under various pseudonyms. By melodramas he means “blood-and-thunder,” and “blazing ray-guns” written “strictly for fun.” As is often the case when Silverberg talks about writing SF, he takes—at least to me—a slightly disparaging tone about the more pulpish aspects of the genre. This never fails to irritate me. Personally, his more pulpish tales are by far my favorites among his work. These include two that I read as a kid called Conquerors from the Darkness and Time of the Great Freeze.

As for Stepsons of Terra, Silverberg writes that since it was going to appear under his own name, he: “was a trifle less flamboyant about making use of the pulp-magazine clichés beloved by the magazine’s readers. There would be no hissing villains and basilisk-eyed princess in this one, no desperate duels with dagger and mace, no feudal overloads swaggering about the stars. Rather, I would write a straightforward science fiction novel strongly plotted but not unduly weighted toward breathless adventure.”

So, what was the result? In my opinion? Well, it was good but I think it would have been better with more of those pulp elements. It’s definitely a tale of intrigue rather than action and adventure. The adventure is certainly not “breathless.” Relatively little actually happens in the story, although the writing is good and the characters hold your attention. Too, Silverberg certainly does avoid the cliché descriptions of women often found in tales of the pulp era. And the epic space battle in the book is about as anti-climactic as you can get—certainly not cliché though.

According to Silverberg, the book was very well received by the readers of Science Fiction Adventures and the next issue of the magazine was full of “letters of praise.” I’m sure it was, and I did enjoy the book. Not my favorite of his, though. I guess I’d have to say: give me more pulp.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

The Snake-Man's Bane, by Howie K. Bentley

The Snake-Man’s Bane, by Howie K. Bentley, is a collection of heroic fantasy short stories from Wild Hunt Books. It contains: The Snake-Man’s Bane, All Will Be Righted on Samhain (with David C. Smith), The Heart of the Betrayer, Where There Is No Sanctuary, Thannhausefeer’s Guest, and Full Moon Revenant. Several have been previously published in magazines or anthologies but are collected here for the first time. Most are longish tales, which puts a lot of meat on their bones.
All stories in the collection stand on their own but there is a common thread that runs through them. This is the character of Thorn, a kind of demon-god from the “Rune Realms” who feeds on the essence of other gods and often possesses mortal warriors to use as avatars in our world. Thorn does not appear in all the stories but there is a connection to him in each of the tales.

The primary setting for these pieces is a mythical Europe. There are many hints to suggest that it is the same world, only later in time, as the world described by Robert E. Howard in his Hyborian Age Essay. Mention is made in the stories of Valusia (from Kull’s time) and Zamora (from Conan’s). There is mention of an imprisoned “elephant-headed god from beyond the stars” and of a “great warrior” who destroyed the tower where the god was imprisoned. This is certainly a reference to Robert E. Howard’s “TheTower of the Elephant,” which would make Conan the “great warrior.” In addition, the snake men of the title, who play a prominent role in the first story, seem quite likely to be related to the serpent men mentioned by Howard in some of his Kull tales.

One thing that doesn’t quite jive with the setting as described above is that in the story “All Will be Righted on Samhain,” which was co-written with the excellent author, David C. Smith, there is mention of Rome and the historical Queen Boadicea of the Kelts. A time is even given, 60 CE. However, the main character of this tale, Boadicea’s daughter, Bunduica, becomes a sorcerer who is able to open doorways to other realms. This connected realm concept may explain how this particular story links to the others in the collection.

Although the Howard influence is clear and spelled out for the reader in these tales, I also felt like there was a bit of influence from Michael Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” series. In particular, the way that the demon-god Thorn inhabits various forms through time suggests this. At least to me.

My favorite story in the collection is “Where There is No Sanctuary.” This tale starts out in a way that was reminiscent for me of Howard’s “The Frost King’s Daughter.” This story also features my favorite warrior character in the collection, Argantyr. Argantyr is a literary descendent of such heroes as Conan and Karl Wagner’s Kane, but he is unique to Howie Bentley, with a particular talent that I won’t spoil for you here. He’s quite an appealing character, albeit grim, and I’d love to read more about him.

All influences and discussion of settings and characters aside, the key aspect to these stories is that they are “tales of high adventure.” They’re exciting works full of both heroic and villainous deeds, violent swordplay, and the dark doings of sorcery. I very much enjoyed them and highly recommend them to you. The book is available in both paperback and kindle if you’re looking to pick up a copy. Here’s the link:

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Unsheathed: A Review

Unsheathed: An Epic Fantasy Collection. 2018: Hydra Publications. ISBN = 9781940466682

Edited by Stuart Thaman.

Contains: 9 fantasy stories, all of which would be classified as either sword and sorcery or high fantasy. Full disclosure: one of the stories is mine.

Hanging at Crosbothar, by Austin Worley: A great opening line here, “Corpses hung from the ancient maple like leaves.” Has an historical feel—brought to mind the Templars—but brings in magic as a significant player in the story. The primary hero is female and is well drawn. Writing is good; lots of sensory details. Enjoyable.

Retribution by Night, by Chad Vincent: No real hero in this story, but plenty of villains. The one known as Armstrong is most memorable. I’d generally consider it sword and sorcery but the naming convention in the story sounds more historical. The writing style is very unusual, perhaps rather experimental on the part of the author. Interesting read.

Where All the Souls are Hollow, by Charles Gramlich: My story. Features the character, Krieg, a series character I’ve been working with. This was intended to be sword and sorcery with a twist. I won’t give that away. For those of you familiar with fantasy, the charter of Krieg probably most resembles Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane.

Switch Blade, by Dr. Scott Simerlein: More high fantasy than sword and sorcery, and a tale with humor. A magical blade that can switch bodies and souls. The tale hinges on the difficulty of getting the right soul back into the right body after an accident. Ingenious plot. A very satisfying ending that brought a smile and a “well-done.”

King’s Road, by G. Dean Manuel: This one has another magical blade and my favorite character in the collection, Prince William. William’s father, the king, is not serving his land well in the face of a sorcerous invasion. William has to act but he does so with honor by giving his father a chance for redemption. A good read with another strong ending. Has a kind of historical feel.

The Artefact, by Ross Baxter: Excellent start to this tale, when three companions enter a ruined estate in search of secrets. There’s a cool female warrior named Silja, and a tinkerer named Jud, who is the primary character. I liked Jud a lot and liked how the tale ended. Sword and sorcery.

Under Locke and Key, by Jay Erickson: The only story to feature a child as main character, although there are strong supporting characters. Gwendolyn is a slave girl in a land where a plague called the “Red Tears” is running rampant. The cure to the plague is hidden in plain sight but the story is well constructed so you don’t solve the mystery until the final reveal. I liked it quite a lot. Sword and sorcery with an historical feel.

Ransom for a Prince, by Liam Hogan: This one features a realistically portrayed female warrior who must fight a desperate battle to give her liege a chance to escape. No magic in this one. Lots of good fighting choreography. And a strong ending. Well done.

Only an Elf, By Stuart Thaman: This one features elves and dwarves and leans more toward high fantasy. The main character is an elven slave of the dwarves who discovers a way to strike back at her captors. Well told tale with interesting and complex characters.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Rope and Wire, and Lane Gabriel

I've joined an online western community called Rope and Wire, which is the brain child of Scott Gese. There's a tremendous amount to explore and so far I've just scratched the surface. Generally, it provides a place where western authors can find support and support each other. Lots of good stories are already posted there, although, as I say, I've only been able to read a few so far.

My first story accepted for the site went up yesterday (Saturday). It's called "Gun Law" and features a character named Lane Gabriel. I created Gabriel all the way back in 2013 and wrote three partial stories about him. Life intervened and I never finished any of them. Then I moved on to other projects, but I've remembered the character.

When I became aware of Rope and Wire, I decided I wanted to submit something to them. I went back to the Lane Gabriel stories and found one that I could whip into shape as a complete tale. If you read it, you can see that the "end" could easily be expanded on, and I may do that over time.

If you check out my story, you'll find it written under the name Tyler Boone, which is what I've decided to publish all my westerns under from now on. Anyway, if you'd like to read "Gun Law," you can find it here.

Thanks as always for the support!